Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Close Inspections

I found a magical fairy village in the middle of the woods!
August is a whole month of crazy.  Monsoon is in full swing and so is migration.  It's the one time of year when everything all comes together.  But the temps are brutal in the desert and surrounding areas. 

Enjoying the cool breeze of a monsoon storm in Sierra Vista along the San Pedro River

And it is during this time of year that I collect my data for migrating warblers, shorebirds and birds listed as endangered or in decline.  Did they nest?  Are there juveniles? Are there more or less of these birds coming through the area right now?  After chasing life birds in Chiapas, I just felt I needed to connect more with "my birds" and do quality study. 

The monsoon clouds build over Cochise Lake in Wilcox
While I love the grasslands, I'm not a huge fan of the chiggers and bugs.  Right around the first couple weeks of August, we hit the peak season of monsoon.  It's during this time of year we begin to see some early migrants passing through our area while also observing difficult birds, like the Cassin's Sparrow, out in the open doing their "larking display".  There isn't a certain date for this peak.  It's just something I feel out each year.  Each weekend during the month of August, I carefully pick the spots to do my studies.  In this post, we stopped at the Wilcox Lake for migrating shorebirds, Mt. Lemmon for warblers, St. David for nesting Yellow-billed Cuckoos, and my work site in Oro Valley(weekly patch study) for the nesting Purple Martins specific to our Sonoran Desert.  It has been a quality month of research and birding.  None of it is boring.  The hikes are incredible and the treks are some of the most scenic on this planet. 

Black-necked Stilts
We headed down to Wilcox and explored "Cochise Lake" first.  We picked up two Stilt Sandpipers, one Semipalmated Plover and Sandpiper.  While these birds were wonderful to spot, our best observation happened with a cranky Northern Mockingbird and Swainson's Hawk. 

A Northern Mockingbird chases a Swainson's Hawk off the post.  That takes some huevos. 
After awhile, we headed out because it looked like it was going to rain in the area.  

Black-tailed Jackalope Jackrabbit:)
I wanted to check up on our now fledged Mississippi Kites, Yellow-billed Cuckoos and Yellow-breasted Chats.  Along the way, we observed lots of great birds around the countryside. 

White-winged Dove perches on an Ocotillo
We'd stop and look and then move onto the next area. 

A male Northern Cardinal sits on top of a Saguaro.  Talk about a strange sight!
After a summer of chasing crazy new birds in Mexico, I was happy to just stand in MY world with MY birds and let them fly around me.  I know this world best.  Every habitat.  And almost every bird.  It's great.  They are my secrets.  My escape. It is very comforting to know that many made it back in one piece.

Gila Woodpeckers are LOVING the sugar water right now.  Sorry hummingbirds!
The Gila Woodpeckers fought the hummingbirds for nectar. 

Spiders hid on leaves.  And chats.....did a lot of chatting:)

Yellow-breasted Chat
I went to St. David and followed up on the Cuckoos and Kites.

A Yellow-billed Cuckoo flies over my head.  I have a special connection with this bird as it followed me around last year in the trees:)  And it was back again in the same area where we hung out for awhile watching each other.  
Thankfully, they were all there safe and sound.

Here's my friend who is still around
Currently the western variety of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo is in danger. It is listed as threatened and near the threshold of endangered. Tucson Audubon currently has surveys going on around their nesting areas in Southern Arizona.  They are collecting data about this declining species so that they can designate areas for their protection. "The loss and degradation of native riparian habitat throughout the western Yellow-billed Cuckoo's range has played a major role in the bird's decline"(source)

Back at my work site, I do a weekly survey of the birds found around the campus.  The Purple Martins were concerning for me because they are clear cutting major areas of desert next to the school and wash.  Normally, I see these birds before school is out but I hadn't seen them before summer break.  However, I was SO happy when I discovered this desert subspecies flying around the Saguaro cactus at the start of our new school year.

I don't know how they did it with all the chaos around them but they raised another wonderful family.  They had 3 young at the time but have now begun their migration.  I hope they return next year.  It's crazy how connected I have become with my local birds.

Black-crowned Night Heron
On a particularly hot day, I wanted to bird but not far from home.  So I went to my other regular patch at a nearby park to count the juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons.  The Herons have had a good year!  4 juveniles were seen on this 100+ degree evening.

The heat can be intense!  Thankfully warbler migration begins on top of Mt. Lemmon in August and this is where I'll finish my reporting.

Townsend's Warbler
It was hot in Tucson at around 113 degrees.  Mt. Lemmon was sunny with a slight breeze in the 80's.  This was a no brainer.

On this beautiful day, we had 11 of the 13 warbler species on the mountain.  The Wilson's, Townsend'ss and Hermit warblers were AMAZING!  It was a successful outing indeed!

Wilson's Warbler
Warblers are pretty cool birds.  Yes, they are difficult to see, but they are little gems that dance underneath the shadows of leaves. 

Hermit Warbler in flight
Overall, it has been a great month out and the data collected was a success.  I realize not all years will have such positive reports but this one was one of the best thanks to lots of wonderful rain.

Birding can be quite meaningful. With this collection of data, I become stronger and better at being not just a birder but a true citizen scientist.  

Over the next two weeks, we'll meet new friends on the trails.  Las Aventuras is about to begin Chapter 3 of "Americano".  Stay tuned for more friends:)


  1. yes this looks like you had am amazing trip with great birds seen and photographed along with other critters

  2. Great set of pictures - love the ears on that rabbit looking thing! Are you sure the display on the tree stump is not a Bower Birds bower?

    cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  3. I simply love this last picture, better than "B.... for dummies!"

  4. Not the best weather, but glad to see the birds you're documenting again.

  5. These are all great captures Chris! Carry a bleach pen for the chiggers or a bottle of clear nail polish...both work for me.

  6. Great set of pictures, Chris. Brings back great memories of previous visits to southeast Arizona.

  7. Another great set of birds and pictures Chris. That Cardinal on the Saguaro is a super picture which tells me a lot about the relative size of each. Talking of size, I thought our European Brown hare was quite a big animal but it would be dwarfed by your jackrabbit. That's a nice description of warblers - "dancing under the shadows of leaves. Very apt, descriptive and helpful for anyone struggling to find warblers.

    The book looks handy. Too much dosh spent on optics huh?

    1. And there's a NEW lens coming out for my camera!!! OOOOOOHHHHH I shouldn't but I seriously use my equipment almost on a daily so I can justify the expanse and upgrade?:)

  8. Such a positive posting about the status of your birds :) Nice to touch base with family and friends (that's what this feels like to me!) Love that last shot.

    1. That's exactly how I feel Rosemary:) Sometimes I get so frustrated, but when I see a bird or something naturesque, I forget why I was frustrated:)

  9. Lovely post Chris - just love that cute jack-rabbit :)

    I love patch birding - there's always new discoveries to be made and surprises too :)

  10. Ha, ha, Rohrer! Love that last photo! So sorry to hear about the decline of the yellow-billed cuckoo! I know they used to be seen at the Rio Rico pond until they cut back all the trees and brush to put that power line in! While it was just a small patch of habitat, it really mattered to the birds who lived there! Great post!


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