Saturday, December 31, 2016

On the 12th Month....

One step at a time. One month at a time.  One bird at a time.  It's time to take a look back on this years very often slow trek to the top, finding birds. 

We began in January.  It was a good start to the year finding 4 new lifers in one month.  That's almost unheard of these days. The birding was fun and the temps were wonderfully COLD!  I love birding in the cold weather.  On a rare snowy day in Sierra Vista, I found my exciting lifer, the American Bittern.  Then it was off to Lake Havasu where we found another cool bird, the Yellow-billed Loon.  These two bird species are favorites of mine and I had been really looking forward to observing them in the wild. Then, on a windy day, I chased the McCown's Longspurs.  I like grassland birds, but I had a nasty headache from the blustery conditions in Green Valley while helping birders target these two longspurs. If I were ever a paid guide, I think my strength would be finding grassland birds.  Another bird, which was less exciting, was the Barrow's Goldeneye.  All birds are awesome BUT some birds are more exciting to find than others.

Let's begin. January, 2016 I began the year with 706 observed bird species in my life.  And then it began as I added American Bittern, Yellow-billed Loon, Barrow's Goldeneye and McCown's Longspur

In February, the Rusty Blackbird continued.  It took 3 attempts to find this bird and eventually it happened.  I love blackbirds a lot and adding this lifer was a thrill for me.  Thanks to Brian for the encouragement to keep chasing it. 

Rusty Blackbird
Then March arrived.  I was SO looking forward to our trek out to California.  And all of it was a complete joy.  I love the ocean.  And I love all these birds.  The landscape was gorgeous and so was the ride out to Catalina Island. 
So in March, I added Yellow-chevroned Parakeet, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Black Turnstone and Spotted Dove.

In April, I began lacking the energy needed for chasing birds.  It was starting to get hot outside and the idea of standing in the desert sun was not my idea of fun.  I almost didn't go but thanks to Magill's encouragement, I went.  And I got myself a random lifer, AND RARE!, warbler for the state.  April-Prothonotary Warbler

If April was hot, May was even hotter.  I wasn't thrilled about hearing a Black Rail.  I would have liked to see the bird but it's a difficult one to see in the wild.  We chased the ABA first, Pine Flycatcher.  Thanks Jeremy for driving!  They were hot days and the only way I survived was by drinking ice cold water in my camelpack. Not my idea of fun birding.  While the excitement level was high, I was looking forward to birding in Wisconsin during the month of June in cooler temps. May-Black Rail, Red-headed Woodpecker, Pine Flycatcher
Then June came.  I didn't go anywhere exotic, but I did find myself enjoying the cooler temps of Lake Michigan with my people.  I missed being around the Wisconsin birding crowd. It was a tight study in a window of 3 weeks.  During this trek with Gordon, we landed the most lifers including rare gems like the Kentucky, Cerulean and Kirtland's Warblers.  Many were a lot of fun to look for.....except maybe the Mourning Warbler due to the intense cloud of mosquitoes. 
June-Yellow-throated Vireo, Kentucky Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Sedge Wren, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher, Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers, Kirtland's Warbler, American Woodcock, Little Gull, Mourning Warbler, Winter Wren and Alder Flycatcher.

In July, it was back to the heat.  I didn't want to return to Arizona but I had to save money.  I didn't think anything was going to come my way.  That is, until a Hudsonian Godwit flew into Arizona.  This is where I began to change as a birder.  

California Scrub-Jay
I could see that my days for chasing year birds in Arizona were coming to an end. I saw the massive crowd of birders and realized that it was time to move forward in my life as a birder.  I chased the Godwit because it was a lifer.  The weather was miserable and so was my attitude. At this point, I began taking my name off of the top 100 ebirders in Arizona and the US.  This was not a game for me, nor is birding a competition. ABA added the California Scrub-Jay and Townsend's Storm-Petrel as separate species ....and I added two more birds to my lifelist in July making it three lifers. July-Hudsonian Godwit, Townsend's Storm-Petrel and California Scrub-Jay

Hudsonian Godwit
Then August came.  And for a brief moment, I remembered the fall like temps of the North.  And I remembered how much I loved birding.  After many attempts of searching for this bird, it finally happened.   August-American Three-toed Woodpecker

American Three-toed Woodpecker
I was truly expecting ZERO lifers in September until Hurricane Newton came our way.  The sky turned dark and gray.  It was rainy and cool.  And I felt alive.  I also felt like something magical was going to happen.  And it did!  The eye of Newton broke up close to home, introducing me to a new species from the Galapagos Islands!  RARE!  Storm-Petrels are another favorite of mine and so my blood was pumping after finding three different species here in the desert!  THIS was the BEST birding day of the year for me. And it will go down as a historic day in birding for the state of Arizona.  September-Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel

Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel
My life at this point was overrun with overtime and work.  But the saving grace was a trek out to Monterey, CA where I'd be out on the ocean for several days.  This month would land me several important lifers and bring me closer to completing my birding chapter in California.  This was another fun California trek with Debi Love Shearwater. October-Pigeon Guillemot, South Polar Skua, Black-footed Albatross, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Lesser Sand Plover, Buller's and Flesh-footed Shearwater

In November, I did not find any lifers.  However, I have been adding old files into iNaturalist and I wanted to verify an ID on this hummingbird below.  I had labeled it a White-necked Jacobin, but the ID had never sat quite right with me.  When a birder is unfamiliar with new birds, it can be difficult.  To make it worse, I wasn't truly a birder in 2011. I was more like a bird photographer. I had only started getting interested with the birding challenge after this trip to Panama.  So technically, I added a tick on my list by adding this beautiful Snowy-bellied Hummingbird.  So November wasn't really a bust:)  When a birder can ID a bird with certainty, it then makes the bird a lifer even though I saw this bird back in Boquete in June of 2011. 

Snowy-bellied Hummingbird
And finally December.  It has been a long month and I was beginning to think that I wasn't going to add any new birds to my list.  However, several days ago I was able to add on Thayer's Gull and Eastern Screech-Owl during my visit to Wisconsin.  

Eastern Screech-Owl
This has been a hard fought year for some tough birds.  The rarity highlights include the Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, Pine Flycatcher and Lesser Sand Plover.  We'll see you back next year, but for now I'm wishing everyone a wonderful and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Two Birds Are Better Than One

Black-capped Gnatcatcher
On a beautiful and relaxing weekend out, we went searching for 2 new birds to add to the Arizona State list. It was cold and it felt good to be on the trails again for long periods of time.

White-faced Ibis
Our first count happened at Patagonia Lake State Park for the rare(to the US) Green Kingfisher.  It's a pretty bird that happened to be hanging out in a beautiful location. 

The waterways of Patagonia
These past two months close to home have been fun for me because the riparian corridors in Southern Arizona have been really exciting to explore.  And it seems like the birding trend has been for birders to explore these spaces more.  The weather was perfect and the bird finds were fantastic.

Bewick's Wren
Besides all the regulars we get, we had a whopping 10 rare species show up on our count over a 5 hour time period! Yes.  We were on the trails for 5 hours because the weather was SO nice.

Ladder-backed Woodpecker
We also went to help out with the CBC counts down in Patagonia.  I didn't sign up at all because I couldn't commit to the dates.  Originally we were supposed to go up to Mt. Lemmon but a snow storm hit the mountain and made it difficult for us to help that CBC count.  My car is a simple one. She's not rough or rugged like other birder cars.

While we were down there, we were able to relocate the Green Kingfisher and help the crew find some new species to add to their counts.

Hutton's Vireo
The photo of the Green Kingfisher below is a stock photo of the many we have seen down in Mexico. It's a very pretty bird.

As we were finishing up our counts, we saw a gull fly towards us.  Gulls in Arizona are fun because we obviously don't get to see them often in the desert.  But a Pacific Storm had rolled through the area bringing with it a Pacific Loon(expected rarity during this time of year) and a California Gull.

California Gull at sunset
People had said there were Ring-billed Gulls in the area so I had expected to see this more common gull.  Then I saw the red dip on the lower bill and I knew we had a California Gull. Again this bird isn't unexpected, but it does show up as rare.  Patagonia State Park is expensive and the 20 dollar entrance fee is too much.  Unfortunately, this will be our last trip there until that fee comes down.  However, we had an amazing day out finding at least 77 species of birds. Here is our count.

Cackling Goose
As Sunday arrived, I had one more bird I needed for my AZ state list, the Long-tailed Duck. It's a crazy bird for our state.  They do show up from time to time in December.  A couple years ago, one showed up on Christmas Day and then disappeared shortly afterwards.  For those who could break away from the Christmas formalities, it was a gift.

Hammond's Flycatcher
So when this one showed up a week ago, I thought it wouldn't stick around for the weekend.  Then it did.  And that's when I made the decision to go.

Northern Cardinal
However, this location, the Glendale Recharge Ponds, is not so pretty and not really so much fun to explore.  You just show up and look at the basins to count birds that are usually too far out to see without a scope.

When a birder arrives at this location, they are greeted by lots of graffiti. I've been told that some people have had things stolen or worse.  Just recently, a man hung himself from the bridge.  There was an altar to remember him as we parked our car at the "entrance". 

The canals of Glendale Recharge Ponds
I called my friend Gordon on a whim to see what he was doing and he's like....yeah, let's go birding!  That was awesome.  Even though he had seen the bird, he wanted to go out and bird for awhile. Plus, he is a master of kung fu and jujutsu.  So he warded off the bad people as we scoured the ponds for the Long-tailed Duck.  While we were there, we witnessed a lot of poaching along the canal.  Several people were collecting fish illegally.  When we moved to their location, they moved away but not without collecting several buckets of fish.  So here is my advice for this popular birding spot.  If you are visiting, go during the day and with a friend.  Many locals go alone but only because they are familiar with the area. 

Long-tailed Duck
Coming up next week, Las Aventuras hits the road once again to find new birds.  I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season.  Until next week.......

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Walk In The Park

Yellow-rumped Warbler
 When this past weekend arrived, I didn't know what I'd exactly do.  I looked at my calendar and remembered that Tucson's CBC was coming up.  I also had a free ticket for the Reid Park Zoo which gave me an idea. Why not cover the ENTIRE Reid Park area(including the zoo)!?!?

 The Tucson CBC, or Christmas Bird Count, is going to be held this week during my work schedule so I am not able to attend. HOWEVER, if YOU are in the area and interested, click on this link here.  It's a wonderful way to discover great birding spots around town while helping our bird populations around the US.  This will be Rich Hoyer's last CBC for Tucson.  Thank you Rich for all the years you've organized this event. We will miss you. 

Rich is on the left.  This was during an epic trek into Chiapas over a year ago. 
Anyhow, while I can't attend the Tucson CBC this week, I helped scout local patches for the team that will cover my neighborhood.  So I made the decision to do some responsible birding this weekend and kept it local. 

 In just under 3 hours, I covered the zoo, outside park ponds and baseball fields finding a nice total of 49 bird species. Lately, I have been less about chasing and more about doing investigative work on known species in areas closer to home. 

Wood Duck
 Plus, I need to save money for pretty much everything which includes 2 out of state treks and one out of country adventure for this year and next.  And of course, there are the other costs like maintaining both home and car:)  As I've said before, there really isn't anything left to chase in Arizona anymore SO I have chosen to bird responsibly.  It's nice to pick and choose where and HOW I'll bird.  

a wintering male Broad-billed Hummingbird
 Reid Park is a wonderful green patch in the middle of the city.  With a variety of vegetation, both desert and exotic, it can be a great place to spot rarities. 

Vermilion Flycatcher
 In fact, I've been spending a lot of time here at our parks.  Last weekend, I spent a quiet count at Agua Caliente Park.  Before that, I went to Ft. Lowell Park, etc etc.  Reid Park is the closest to my home and is probably one of the best spots in town for the most avian diversity. However, I will say that Tanque Verde Wash, Coachline and the Sweetwater Wetlands are pretty darn good as well.   

a captive Blue-crowned Motmot
 Oh I still dream.  I visited the South American aviary and watched the Blue-crowned Motmot.  I wondered if they had updated the motmot complex with the actual name of this bird since it was split into 3 different species this past summer. Somehow I didn't seem to care.  It was a passing thought as I forgot about my surroundings and just enjoyed watching this bird up close under the shadows of the giant bamboo.  Spanish teacher day dreaming............

House Sparrow with Peacock feather
 Meanwhile House Sparrows collected Peacock feathers to build their nests.  I searched and searched for a rare Harris's Sparrow or Golden-crowned Sparrow in the vegetation but didn't have any luck.  

Orange-crowned Warbler
 I searched for rare warblers in several warbler flocks but didn't find anything extraordinary.  I followed up on my rare Tucson Inca Doves that I've been monitoring at the zoo.  It took me awhile but I found them. 

Inca Doves
So while I had fun playing detective at my local patch, I was able to help my Tucson CBC friends for their big counts this week. 

the acrobatic Verdin on Bamboo
While these past two months have been challenging due to health reasons, I have learned how to adapt and find joy with my birds closer to home.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it is not something that has been easy for me.  I'm still in shock that people elected this guy known as Trump for President....I don't know why anyone would vote for this loser, but they did. It's hard to believe that Clinton won with over 2 million votes and still "lost".  I have to let it go, but watching this all unravel is a nightmare. Anxiety attacks are not fun.  After that election battle, there was a darkness I had never felt before and it is a scary feeling. A Bush in the White House is not the same as a Trump in the White House. I feel like there is a global war building and I can't stop it.  

at the Flamingo exhibit
And then there is work.  I tried managing 180 kids without a break all day long so that I could pay off my student loan early.  Yeah, not going to happen. The body speaks volumes about how much stress we can handle.  Thankfully, that crazy stress will be over by the end of the semester.  The night comes quickly and leaves little time to bird after work which has thrown off my meditation.  When the weekend comes, I sleep whenever I can and bird for a few hours to just....exist.  As the year comes to a close, I'll be heading to the arctic north where I'll gladly don my gloves and scarf.  My mind takes me to icy waters where the snow falls around me. I still have some work to do in Arizona this month with Deborah Vath's CBC.  We'll be taking our youth out and searching for birds next weekend.  Have a great week everyone and until next time.......

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Swan Song

We began our morning at the Hassyampa River Preserve.  It was a pretty place and we did have a nice bird count.  But it was a random trek out to Sun City to confirm a recent sighting of a Tundra Swan that would make our day fun and exciting.  But I'll start off with some pretty Gray Fox and Hassayampa photos to properly get this adventure started.  

We entered the realm of Sun City, a huge Arizona retirement community.  It's always good to begin your search with the facts.  When the facts/data don't match up, it's time to ask questions. "Hi there, we were wondering if you've seen swans on your golf courses?  We're here to verify a Tundra Swan recently seen at one of your ponds."  

"OH yes!  We have swans at several of the ponds. There are some in that direction and over here."

"And you're sure they are not geese?  Like the two Snow Geese seen over there?" Oh gods....what if they thought those geese were swans.  It wouldn't be the first time.  This search reminded me of our Monk Parakeet follow up last year in Casa Grande.  What was impressive is that the residents here KNEW their birds and definitely knew the difference between a goose and a swan.  That was really cool. But where were they?

"No. No," they continued, "These are definitely swans. Go to the club house and they can give you better directions", replied the happy retired couple. We went to the club house and an elderly man asked me if I could fix the hot tub.  I felt like a guy wearing a red shirt in a Target Store. As it turned out, it was the wrong club house.  If there were swans, did the residents know the difference between a Mute or Tundra Swan?  We'd find out. 

One of several Mute Swans found on the golf course ponds
Our random conversations went like this for a couple hours.  The problem?  So many of the ponds were hidden from street view and that made it difficult spotting ANY bird. The Tundra Swan is a very rare bird for Maricopa County and it was important that we track down and confirm the ID of this bird.

As she heads towards the light, Magill realizes before it's too late that this isn't the right hotspot......for now. 
We were meticulous in our search. The problem?  We were in a retirement community that had many of the ponds on private property.  Both Magill and myself are responsible birders and obey the law accordingly.  If a sign is posted, we don't trespass.  And that was a frustrating (and yet kinda fun) challenge.  But as they say, "Where there's a will, there's a way."

A Harris's Hawk perches on top of a resident's home

As stated before, the hotspot markers were in different areas of the city.  The birder reporting this swan certainly had specific and detailed information in their report leading us to believe that the swan was legit.  Not many people have searched for this bird because there is question as to whether or not this swan is truly wild AND there has been some inaccurate reporting from this area in the past:)  So we hoped for the best and prepared for the worst.  But when it comes to birding, is there really a worse case scenario?  Well maybe if you were attacked by bears or fall off a cliff......but other than that.......:)

The Tundra Swan has a provenance issue.  If you don't know that word, don't worry.....I didn't either:)  It basically questions the origin of the bird and whether the swan can be "counted" as a wild bird.  After hearing the history of this particular Tundra Swan, I think we'll find out that the bird is indeed countable. Come spring, if the bird flies North, there is no question. If it stays, it's a different story. 

The stunning Hooded Mergansers
We saw some great birds in the various ponds but there was one pond that was hidden from view. We knew the swans were there. How could we view the pond without stepping on private property?  And that's when fate would have us meet up with Patti and Sylvia!  

After finding the correct club house, we stopped and asked several of the residents if they had seen the Tundra Swan or knew of any swans on the property. They said they did. And what was even better?  They knew what a Tundra Swan was! Then something really spontaneous and fun happened. They took us straight to the bird in their golf carts. Both women were so kind.  If you are reading Patti and Sylvia, a big THANK YOU for taking a couple of strange bird people out in your golf carts.  

And sure enough. There they were. The Swans. 

Tundra Swan
One Mute Swan and one Tundra Swan.  Side by side preening. 

It was a fun afternoon out on the greens.  Well, a birder's version of golf:)

It's always great investigating areas with Magill.  It reminds me of playing detective as a kid except that it's all for a good cause.  Plus you get to meet new kids adults at the playground! 

The world is an ever changing place and with it, we are finding that the birds are also adapting or struggling to survive against those changes.  I've been birding for a short 5 years in Arizona and I have to say that this year has been the craziest with sightings.  What will next week hold?  Stay tuned for more........