Tuesday, July 28, 2015

600 Life Birds

Oh the road can be sooooo slow!  Life birds?  What are those?  Last year in April I was at 500 life birds.  Throughout the year, I added birds regularly every month.  This year it has been a trickle:) I suppose it gives me a chance to absorb all the amazing observations of the birds without feeling rushed.  I do hope to make up for the birds down in Mexico this year. Will I be able to make it to 700 by the year end?  Here are the stories behind each of the top ten birds.

Monk Parakeet
The Monk Parakeet was seen downtown Ft. Myers, Florida near a swimming pool.  I grew up with these birds at home as they are sold in the pet trade as Quakers. In fact, this is how they invaded the US! Loud, ruthless and quick to multiply, the Monk Parakeets have become established in many US communities which include cities like cold Chicago and tropical Florida.  My bud Sydney and I played a hunch and followed the human trail to several nest sites and voila! There they flew in great numbers with twigs and branches making nests around power lines and palm trees.

Wilson's Plover
The Wilson's Plover was number 510.  I went to Bunche Beach, Florida to count hundreds of shorebirds only to come out with thousands of chigger bites!  It took nearly two months for my body to heal!  It rained after I heard and saw the bird.  I was able to help several birders get their scopes on the this plover.  Later in Mexico, I would see this bird once again under much better circumstances.  Sunny and bug less! It's call is distinct and easy to pick out.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak
At 520, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak made its way into Willcox, AZ.  I went to chase the bird and hung out in a very kind man's backyard.  There we watched this beautiful bird feed off of his fruiting mulberry tree.

By life bird 530, I was in Maine visiting Kathie.  Together, we went to a field near her home and discovered the magnificent Bobolinks.  There they called and collected caterpillars for their young ones. This is one unusual and gorgeous blackbird.

Black Guillemot
Life bird 540 happened near Eastern Egg Island.  This Black Guillemont went after what looked like twizzler's licorice.  I braced myself on the rocky boat as I snapped off several shots of this bird flying near the side of our boat.  At this point both Micheal and Kathie were under the weather and very seasick!  Now THAT was an adventure I won't forget anytime soon:)  Nor will they.

Blue-headed Vireo
In the dark mossy forests of Maine, we discovered a Blue-headed Vireo.  This lovely bird graced the branches while we sweat it out in the woods:)  This bird made 550 on the list. 

Prairie Warbler
At 560, the Prairie Warbler made its swirly call as the rain began to fall.  I was able to briefly see this bird before it went back into hiding as two young morons revved up their truck and sped past us on the dirt roads of Maine. 

the exotic Northern Red Bishop
At 570, I was alone again in California.  Here I spotted the exotic invading Northern Red Bishop.  What a beauty!!!

By December, it all began to slow down.  Again, I returned to Southern California where I stood silently near a city park lake and watched the Wrentits move around me.  This was Life bird 580.  

At 590, the Black-throated Blue Warbler was a real shyster. Not all life birds play nice.  We sat and waited and waited for this warbler to come out.  When he did, the tiny warbler was so far away! I finished in the US with number 599, the Painted Bunting.  But I wondered which bird would mark the magical 600.  Drum roll...............

Green Parakeets
We flew into Southern Mexico during the night hours.  At dawn, the first bird that made itself known was the Green Parakeet. They seemed to be flying everywhere around us.  And so in my life, number 600 marks the Green Parakeet. The adventure continues next week as we begin our exploration into Chiapas, Mexico. 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Mogollon Rim

Hello everyone! Today we visit the lovely Heber-Overgaard area along the beautiful Mogollon Rim. Over the past week, I've gone on several treks with Gordon to do a dry run before our big Mexico trip!  As of this write, we are both very excited about discovering new birds again. When we come back, I'm sure we'll have lots of stories to share. 

Canyon Creek Road
We weren't chasing any birds on this weekend as we just wanted to bird.  It was wonderful finding all the wildflowers growing around the area. In fact, I found myself looking at the plants and bugs more on this trek.  

Wildflowers, top to bottom and left to right
Wild Sunflower, Bristly Pricklypoppy, Indian Paintbrush
Wild Rose, Purple-fringe, Heartleaf Arnica
Both of us had several places in mind that we had wanted to check out.  We stopped at Black Canyon and Wood's Canyon Lake for some fun finds.  On our return trip back, we made a stop at the Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.  It turned out to be my favorite spot to explore. I had wanted to check for possible American Dippers but it's really not the correct time for them to be there in this location. This was more of a scouting trek. However it is winter habitat for the Dipper!  So I'll be making a trek up again. 

We had some great finds at Wood's Canyon Lake where there were nesting Bald Eagles!  Two juveniles were seen standing on the nest and that was great news!  While we were there, we watched both the Eagles and Ospreys grab fish from the lake.

Wood's Canyon Lake-best place to bird even with a billion vacationers 
We even watched a Great Blue Heron grab a fish in flight.  Gordon has the pics for that action set.  It was a pretty awesome observation and a first time that we've both seen that kind of behavior from this bird.  

Western terrestrial garter snake
My snake detector went off when I saw a head swinging back and forth.  It seems this Arizona subspecies of the Garter Snake was looking for food.  Gordon was very excited about the find and shared it with the girls playing in the water below.  I watched them freeze and had a good laugh.  "This one is safe. Snakes are cool.", Gordon said happily.  My response was, "Yeah, but they're still snakes:)"  I have learned to appreciate them from a distance, but you won't catch me picking one up anytime soon.  Still.  It was a great find on an already awesome birding trek. 

I'm sure many of you were asking by this point in the blog where the photos of my birds were:)  Don't worry, I've got one for you.  At Wood's Lake, we discovered lots of recently fledged Steller's Jays hanging out around a pine tree. The adults were feeding them while they were getting a sip from the puddles in the rocks.

Anyhow, my focus was a bit scattered on this trip.  Therefore the pics were a little "off".  The heat was still intense at the higher levels on this weekend and made for an impatient me.  At the time of this write, June 30th, a woman was killed by a lightning strike along the Rim.  If you do visit during our monsoon season, whether you're local or visiting, please make sure you're safe.  If you see lightning or major dark cloud build up in Arizona, get inside a secure building.  Our storms here are NO joke. 

A happy Gordon along the Rim and a random butt shot behind:) It's a popular place!
However take a look at the amazing views from the Rim!  The Mogollon Rim is an important geographical feature for Arizona....especially southern Arizona.  During our monsoon season, storms will build along the Rim and blow south into Tucson and surrounding areas giving us much needed rain. It's also a place for many Phoenix residents to escape their personal hell. Phoenix is eternally hot. Recently on a trek outside of Phoenix, it was 94 degrees at 3:30 in the morning!!!  In Tucson, it gets down into the 60's at that time! You may spy an innocent and peaceful Tucsonan up there, but if you hear loud people who like to drive dangerously, they are from the Phoenix area;) As birders, we always know that any form of exercise away from tourist hotspots like piers, restaurants or shopping centers will always get us away from crazy.  So overall, it was a beautiful and quiet weekend until we drove the highways back.  I'd like to say that Tucsonans are better, but I don't think I can:) Anyhow, here's a little fun bird bit for bird and Nightjar lovers!

On a chase to find a rare male Painted Bunting, a young talented birder by the name of Walker found something very sacred at the Tres RĂ­os Wetlands near Phoenix.  Here is a rare look at a Lesser Nighthawk nest.  Can you see the two eggs?

Okay.  Let's move closer.  These birds are notorious for blending in with their backgrounds.  So anyone who is daring enough to explore the desert in summer, keep your eyes open while you're walking.  At first glance, the desert looks like it is a lifeless region but I assure you that it's full of incredible things. Just remember.  Go early and drink PLENTY of water!  Also have a cell phone on your being.  Watch out for snakes in the shade and if you see lightning, find cover!  

As for the bird responsible for these two eggs?  Here's a pic below from a trek I took a couple years ago to the Salton Sea.  I found a couple of these birds camouflaged on a mesquite tree limb.  Anyhow, they are VERY cool birds!

Las Aventuras takes a turn for the tropical as we head down to Southern Mexico to find our world's 10,000 birds. Join us as we explore Chiapas, Mexico for Chapter Two of the "Americano" Saga. Until next time friends.......

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Day To Day

As the sun sets at Bosque Del Apache, New Mexico
Micheal and I both work as a team.  We enjoy exploring and scouting new areas together.  And sometimes we work alone.  I am constantly following up on information for this blog to keep it fresh and original.  I couldn't do some of this blog without his help as you'll see today.  

Brown-headed Cowbirds on Mule Deer
On our way back home to Tucson, we drove through New Mexico which is a really great place to explore.  One of our favorite places to visit is Bosque Del Apache.  We usually do a loop around the entire area on our way home.  Afterwards, we'll get a bite to eat in the nearby town of San Antonio at the Owl Bar and Cafe.  It's a unique place full of interesting locals.  

Personally, I like the restaurant for it's dark booths and green chile hamburgers.  Bosque can get warm and rather sunny during the summer making the "Owl" a good spot to cool off and let the eyes adjust to the darkness......and weird looking biker people. It's a hoot:)

Red-winged Blackbird
Once we got back home, Micheal had to work and I needed to get the garden area cleaned up.  I've been promising for weeks now to do an update from the El Presidio Gardens. This is something I can only do now when I'm not working my regular job. 

El Presidio Courtyard
I'm happy to report that many of the plants I put into and around the courtyard are doing well. June is usually the worst month as it is hot and dry, but this year the plants seem to be doing very well because they have finally established themselves. Around the fountain, we've placed bird and butterfly friendly plants that require very little water. 

My side garden
This month our peaches will be ready to pick.  We also have three species of hummingbirds nesting around our property right now which is pretty cool.  

The fruit garden
I had two days off before attending a week long conference. As I'm starting the week inside a classroom, I get word that there are some recently fledged Western Screech-Owls in someone's backyard. But I cannot leave.  So I sent Micheal off on a mission to go get the footage and take the data on these owls. They are by no means rare, but they can be tricky to find.  Normally, a person will just hear them in the night making their ball bouncing call.   

Western Screech-Owls
I go over the rules with Micheal about reporting owls on ebird.  He knows them well, but we always review our target birds and how "sensitive" we need to be when reporting a special bird.  "Make sure you move the marker away from the sighting and hide the report." Unfortunately, there are people out there who will cross the lines to get photos of owls at any cost (which includes the owl's safety).  So owl reports in our home are always hidden from the public eye. 

We also discuss keeping an appropriate distance from the owls while taking photos.  He did a great job and had a fun day out.  So I am very grateful that he followed up on this very special bird. 

Finally, I miss my cats so much while we're out on our longer treks.  So it's always wonderful to see our feline friends waiting for us when we get home. Nova, below, is a rescued feral cat that we captured at our home.  Today, she is a pampered and neurotic kitty who constantly requires our attention:)  In fact, all of our cats are rescued.  Not only do we save bird lives by keeping our cats indoors; we help these cats live longer and healthier lives. Feral cats make great house cats, BUT you have to capture them when they are kittens. 

Nova is happy to have us home
Now that I'm back home and finishing up with this conference, I'm getting ready for a bigger trek.  Life definitely is not boring:)  It's good to be home for a week and hide inside of our little home from the nasty heat. 

Callie prefers a lasagna dish over her fluffy cat bed
Every day is an adventure if we make it one.  We owe it to ourselves to smile and explore each and every day.  Even during my conference, I found happy moments during the day.  You can choose to drive through an area OR STOP and explore a bit.  I have found that it's not always about getting from A to Z.  It's about exploring all the letters in between that makes my day more interesting. 

At a cool ramada in New Mexico during a lunch break
Until next time friends......

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Double Duty

nesting Northern Flicker
One of my favorite things to do while I'm traveling to a different city around the US or the world is stop by their zoo and surrounding parks.  After a fun and exhausting birding trek around Rocky Mountain National Park, we were ready for something a little more relaxing. Today we'll take you on a bird walk around the Denver Zoo. 

White-eared Catbird
Every zoo has a different collection of foreign and local birds, animals and reptiles.  I enjoy viewing their collections and learning up close and personal the names of new birds and their calls.  Each bird has a story and it's fun reading about their backgrounds. 

Paradise Tanager
And zoos can also be great places to find local birds!  Every zoo has watering holes with amazing gardens.  Plus, people are notorious for making messes on the grounds.  So while we were there, we kept tabs on the local visiting birds. Regulars, like the American Robins, Northern Flickers and Black-billed Magpies, all hung around the grassy areas. We even found a White-breasted Nuthatch jumping around a tree. 

male Crested Wood Partridge
Sadly, there are always several species at the zoos that face extinction.  Denver Zoo is no exception.  I always wonder if I'll ever see some of these birds in the wild before they disappear. I hope I do.  An older birder once told me to set my sights on the endangered birds first because they may not be around by the time I get to them.  And that is a sad thought. 

female Crested Wood Partridge
Sometimes, like the case with this Blue-crowned Motmot below, I actually get better views:)  Motmots in the wild LOVE hanging out in the shade....or at least the ones I've seen.  I've had to use careful background lighting to get decent pictures of them.  To date, I've seen 4 species of Motmot but I have decent photos for only two of the species thanks in part to dark rain forests. 

Blue-crowned Motmot
Many of the world birds that face declining populations are in places where they are illegally poached for the pet trade.  Many are losing precious habitat while others face poisons and chemicals that pollute their food supply and habitat like rivers and farm fields. If those things are affected or disappear, it can have a devastating consequence on our bird populations.  And it is happening right now as you are reading this.  I began documenting birds just a few years ago and I've already seen changes happening around several of my older reports. Even better?  Take the ebird challenge.  Visit a 10 year old watering hole hotspot and see why it's not a current hotspot.  You'll be shocked! In Phoenix, we discovered many of the old watering holes were covered by development OR the water was redirected onto private land behind a fence. Or even worse?  The water has completely dried up.  Sad.

Chestnut-backed Thrush
Some birds are so strange looking that it thrills to see them up close.  Take for example this Cassowary below.  They are large birds found in New Guinea, the surrounding islands and Northeastern Australia. These birds have been known to take out humans and their pets for getting too close:)  So today, I gawk at this odd dinosaur looking creature. 

The Kori Bustard, below, is listed as Near Threatened. This bird can be found in the southern parts of Africa. It likes the open grassy areas where it can run.

Kori Bustard
The Denver Zoo is also home to a Lorikeet haven. It's a fun place to take the kiddos because they get a chance to feed the Lorikeets.  There were several species of this bird in a nicely enclosed aviary.  So we purchased our dollar cups.  Micheal enjoyed feeding lots of birds as they climbed up on his hand and shoulders for a sip or two from his cups. 

Titus the Stella's Lorikeet
I noticed a shy Lorikeet watching me from a higher branch who was different from the rest.  So I carefully approached this bird and offered him a sip from my cup.  He came down and licked my fingers.  Afterwards, I asked the zoo keepers what type of Lorikeet I was feeding and they came back with a name.  "OH!  His name is Titus and he's a Stella's Lorikeet."  Apparently at one time, Titus lived at the San Diego Zoo.  

Common Grackle
While we were learning about new birds, I was counting all the local birds who were visiting the zoo.  Common Grackles were in great numbers and feeding around picnic areas.  It is not a "common" bird for us in Arizona.  Instead, we are home to MANY Great-tailed Grackles.  So it was a treat to view these birds doing what they do best......taking advantage of human slobs:)

After the zoo, we headed to the local park next door.  There were hundreds of Canada Geese and Double-crested Cormorants. On a nearby island, we found plenty of Snowy Egrets and Black-crowned Night Herons nesting in a very large rookery. But the shocker?  As I did my counts on the nests, I found two Cattle Egrets!  They were mixed into the rookery pretty well. And ONE was on a nest!  It pays to count each and every bird because you never know if there will be a gem hiding in the group. That was our best bird of the day.  

a rare nesting Cattle Egret for Denver, CO
Time was limited and we had to go back to Arizona.  It was a nice stop and break from the driving.  So not only did we have a fun local outing; we also learned about lots of new birds in the process!  The Denver Zoo has a great aviary that also houses African Penguins!  Until next time friends......

Here's a video recapping the last 4 posts at Rocky Mountain National Park and the Denver Zoo. The next Americano Chapter continues......