Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stationary Front

Nesting Broad-billed Hummingbird in our garden at El Presidio
Even if they aren't life birds, they are still so very worthy of close study.  For they are "my birds". Of course I don't own them, but I do live in their area. They are the ones I know best.  In my moments of work overload, I pause to inspect and observe spaces that I inhabit each and every day.  

 A break from madness. Balance. Serenity. No worries for tomorrow.  No worries about the stresses of today.  It's about just existing and being a part of our natural world. It provides a clarity of mind during my daily meditation.

Molting Snow Goose at a local park on my way home from work
Birding doesn't have to go beyond your world.  It can happen wherever you are.  Thankfully, we have birds to remind us to pause and reflect. 

Great Horned Owlets at my work site learning how to fly and use the shadows to stay cool
I wait until my students have all left.  Then I take my camera out and check up on our recently fledged owlets.  All are happy and eager to grow up.  An owlet tries to fly but instead runs into a cactus.  A soccer mom standing with me screams, "OH NO!  We need to help that owlet!"  No we don't.  I ask her, "Did you learn how to roller skate or ride a bike on the first try?"

Everything takes time and practice to get right.  Sometimes it's better when we do nothing.  An injured bird is one thing.  But baby birds learning to fly?  Well it can be quite humorous:)  There is always one clutz in the group. 

A female Vermilion Flycatcher on nest
Even the most common birds can delight while I wait for the next big adventure.  A Vermilion Flycatcher nests.  A Zone-tailed Hawk hunts. 

A Zone-tailed Hawk on the hunt
While I watch this rather intimidating hawk, it shakes several of its molting feathers away:) I don't know why but this bird always makes me nervous. The Common Black Hawk is gentle and graceful.  But the Zone-tailed Hawk is a lethal assassin. Those talons are sharp.  If you ever get accidentally close to a nest, you will know.  Just slowly move away.  They will scream at you and fly right above your head until you leave.  Yikes!

And once and awhile a lovely rare migrant makes its way through the state to make for an exciting chase.

American Golden-Plover
For now, I wait.  There's a lot of waiting.  Time and money never seem to coincide.  The more time you have; the less money you make.  And vice versa. 

A very special sparrow-the Rufous-winged Sparrow
So I will study my birds while I wait. And wait for the next big trip. 

Gilded Flicker
While they nest or migrate, I will take notes.  And more notes......memorizing every buzz, chirp and tweet they make.

A migrating Brewer's Sparrow

For now, it's best I leave this male Vermilion Flycatcher to feed his young family.

Next week, the Wrenegades unite for the biggest day ever in Tucson Audubon's fundraising event!  What will we find?  Stay tuned.  You're not going to want to miss this one!  Especially if you're planning on visiting us this summer:)  Until next time......

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Las Aventuras: Home

Spotted Owls
With the first part of migration over, it was time to do some mountain and riparian trekking for other incoming migrants.

Lark Bunting
Some of the hikes were steep and quite a killer on the feet:)  But I wasn't going to find many birds sitting down.  The first of my two yearly treks into Miller Canyon happened.  On my second trek in June, most of the special hummingbirds like the White-eared and Blue-throated Hummingbirds should be back.

Scott's Oriole
I visited several hotspots around the Huachuca mountains and I walked along the San Pedro River. It was a beautiful day out finding familiar faces and birds along the trails:)

Gray Hawk
Along the waterways, we spied 3 Gray Hawks flying over the verdant canopy of the San Pedro River.

On our return back, the color red caught my eye and I was seduced by the beautiful Pyrrhuloxias at the Casa De San Pedro feeders. 

Lots of Pyrrhuloxias
Before we hiked the trail along the river, there hadn't been any activity.  But when we returned, there were hundreds of birds all feeding!  What a show!

More Pyrrhuloxias with female Red-winged Blackbirds and a Gila Woodpecker
After several months of thought and the direction my birding is going this year, I have chosen the 2016 theme, "Home."  My focus is all about the detail surrounding birds and their lives.

A beautiful male Magnificent Hummingbird along the trail we were hiking.
As we search for new life, we'll explore both the known and the unknown.  While my photo essays will take me into California, Wisconsin and now Texas, I'll continue my work in Arizona.  Hummingbirds are migrating back in great numbers now and I look forward to the work ahead of me this year.

Here are the reports for Miller Canyon, the San Pedro River and Ash Canyon.  Until next time....

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Back to Avalon

This guy was little like the "Lady in the Fountain" from the movie, "Under the Tuscan Sun".  He was a bit "off"
We left LA in the darkness and quickly headed towards the cute beach town of Dana Point. There we would take a ship across the Pacific and look for the last reliable colony of Spotted Doves in the US. 

The islands off of the Southern California coast are some of the best places to visit. Surprisingly they, unlike their neighbors on the nearby coast, are not overcrowded with people. Once we arrived, I knew we were going to have fun birding this island. 

Again, the people fascinated me.  They were a different group.  The lady below was busy chatting with a friend from her porch.  That's not something you see much of these days anymore!

We wandered some along the rocky coastline and found our very own Wandering Tattler!  

Wandering Tattler
We watched this shorebird hunt for crabs.  I think I like the shorebird diet a lot. 

We had some cloudy weather the first day, but it cleared up on the second.  In the pic below, you see the old casino.  It's an entertainment building for movies and weddings, etc. It actually doesn't have any gambling at all. 

It was easy to get distracted here, but our mission was to find the last stable colony of Spotted Doves.  In 1917, these birds were introduced and had established themselves over the years in the LA area.  But as time has gone on, these birds have almost completely vanished from the urban sprawl of Southern California. They are rare now in much of LA County with only a few left at the Colonel Leon H. Washington Park and several other nearby locations. And of course there are random sightings "here and there". We were on vacation and I didn't want to be spending it in LA. Several California birders came to Arizona in January and tipped me off that there was still a reliable place to find these birds.  Catalina Island. 

Spotted Dove
It didn't take long to put a plan together.  A pelagic opportunity, an island trip searching for endemic subspecies and oh....the lifer Spotted Dove!  It was a win win scenario.  And sure enough.  We found our doves!  Lots of them!  Everywhere!

Once we found our doves, it was time to relax and enjoy the rest of our vacation. 

We hiked along the shores. And eventually we went into the rugged interior of the island. 

Striped Shore Crab
People watching was the best. Sipping on my Bloody Mary, we watched people live their lives.  

Crack kills
The road sharply curved around several areas, but we kept our eyes out for the bison known to live on this island.  With all the rain California has received, the island was rather green. 

Eventually we found a small group of bison.  Keeping our distance, we snapped pics. 

With our mission accomplished, it was time to return back to the mainland.  On our way back on the Catalina Express, I found a super rare Red-billed Tropicbird!  I struggled with my gear, but I was able to snap off some ID'able shots of the bird before it disappeared.  It was a rare bird alert for the U.S.!  Getting a pic for these situations is important.  For one, it lets people know that you aren't making it up.  And second, it erases any doubt that the bird may have been ID'd incorrectly. 

Red-billed Tropicbird
All of it can be exhausting.  My eyes had bags under them because it was all new birding territory.  It's hard not to look around you.  After all, it's not every day I get a chance to visit new places.  I love exploring!

The express took us home and it was back to Arizona again.  For the Catalina Island report click here. What an amazing adventure!  Until next time.......

And never let this happen to you:)  Thanks Magill for the laugh!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Return of the Wrenegades

It's that time of year again when the Wrenegades unite and try to find as many bird species as we can in one day!  All the money raised goes towards Tucson Audubon.

Northern Cardinal in my yard
While it's exhausting, we have such a great time together.  Months of preparation are set into motion.  

The Hooded Oriole has just returned back to Tucson! 
On May 1st, the team reunites.  And it's going to be epic!  This year I plan to use the live feature on Facebook to chronicle our journeys.  Should be quite fun:)

We begin with smiles at midnight and end with "zzzzz's" the next day
Captain Jennie MacFarland leads the team.  Tim Helentjaris carefully schedules the routes.  I am the team recorder.  Sara Pike and Matt Griffiths are the publicity gurus and first officers of our mission.  They keep us on track and on time!

Black Phoebe at a local patch
We begin in darkness and typically end in darkness:)  It's an intense journey into the mountains, grasslands and desert landscape around Southern Arizona as we race against time to find as many birds as we can.

Lesser Goldfinch feeds from local wildflowers near my home
There are several routes I enjoy very much which include, of course, the grasslands.  You never know what you will face.  Take for example last year.  We had a rabid skunk chase us off a trail while searching for some secretive birds.

Rabid Skunk territory! Be careful Tim!
At about 2 AM, we had a Flammulated Owl fly over our heads as one of the members had to use the bathroom.  As the person gets to the outhouse in the middle of the woods, our team member shouts out, I hear an OWL!  This little owl was right over their head:)  We all had a good laugh.

A Common Black Hawk returns to a nest I monitor every year.
There is nothing like falling asleep in a van waiting to hear the "gobble gobble" of Wild Turkeys as the sun rises.

Blue-winged Teal dot the waterfowl counts
As many of you know, I do a lot of travel around the country and world to find our birds.  I am proud to live in one of the "birdiest" places on this planet.  Much of our habitat is protected or will be protected thanks in part to Tucson Audubon's work with the public and researchers.  And it takes money to keep this operation going.  Arizona has great birding but it's better thanks to these folks!

I would never bird urban Tucson at night but when we join together, nothing stops the Wrenegade!

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.

The crew finds their second wind
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. 

Anna's Hummingbird hangs out at a local park feeding from the wildflowers
If you would like to donate, just click on the link here and scroll a little ways down. We are the Wrenegades with Jennie Wren. It's safe and secure.  A login is not required after you go to the donate button.  Every little bit counts. Our journey begins on May 1st.

Yellow-eyed Junco
 Until next time friends.....