Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Las Aventuras: Arizona Quail and Grouse

Gambel's Quail-male; he is territorial and watching out for his partner and little ones
In Part 3 from my blog series on Arizona birds, we'll examine the chicken like birds that hang out in the state. This is a popular group of birds that visitors and locals alike hope to spy on their walks.  We'll once again examine what's countable and where we can find them.  This group of birds is unique in that humans have played a role in some of the species living here in the state. Let's get started with the native and local species first.  The Gambel's Quail. 

The female Gambel's Quail carefully takes the little ones to safety while the male keeps an eye out for Cooper's Hawks
Gambel's Quail are one of the most easily seen quail in the state. They are found in local parks, around the deserts and foothills of the Arizona landscape.  Most often they are vocal and seen in larger coveys.  But don't get too cozy.  The rest of the quail species can be tricky!

This male Scaled Quail is looking for love from within his territory
Over the years, I have gotten to know the Scaled Quail better.  This quail can be difficult to find during certain times of years.  And while locals who live in their habitat range say that they are backyard birds and easy to spot, this isn't always the case. They are common and widespread in Southeastern Arizona in the grassland range around places like Cochise Lake in Willcox or along the San Pedro Riparian area of Sierra Vista.  And even then, they can be shy.  

These two birds feed safely under the vegetation out of hawk sight
As a birder, I'd give this quail a rating of 3 on the 1-5 difficulty range(5 being most difficult).  People have been known to dip on this quail. When the males are calling, it's easy.  Quail and Grouse CAN be easy to spot during their breeding season ANYWHERE.  But the thing is, birders don't always have the luxury of visiting during their most vocal and visual time period.  So let's go onto EXTREMELY difficult. 

the male Montezuma Quail sits completely still on a rock watching me watching him; there we scream inside of our heads with excitement over our discovery!  YES!  But we barely breath while looking at the bird:)
Montezuma Quail.  Birders say that you never should look for them.  Instead, they'll find you when the time is right. But what if you don't have a lot of time to spare?! This bird is a FIVE on the difficulty scale.  It is a common bird.  But don't take the word "common" to mean that they're easy to spot.  This quail is super intelligent and is quick to disappear at the slightest sound.  And if they can't escape, they will remain completely still until you almost step on them.....and then as you are about to step on them, they BLAST off giving you a near heart attack.  And if you feel stupid for not having better eyes, DON'T.  This happens to so many birders of all skills.   

The good thing is that these birds are often times vocal and have an eerie martian call. Most of the time they are heard nearby but never seen.  Over the years, I have played games with these birds as they have played games with me.  Like the Flammulated Owl(in a later post), it sometimes takes a team to triangulate their positions.  The good part is that they will freeze hoping you won't see them.  If you get great views of this bird, consider yourself blessed by the bird gods. 

The female tries to hide from me.  My team mate signals with his hand that the female is exposed! It took two of us to triangulate her position before she gave up and flew off. 
So for now, I'd like to address the OTHER 2 quails that have been reported in Arizona.  The first 3 are native species and common in their habitat range. The California Quail below was introduced on a hunting ranch many years ago up in the White Mountains. The habitat in that area is unique and not very large.  But it was enough to sustain a population of countable California Quail over the years.  These birds are native from California and up along the Pacific Coast.  They can be found in Utah and Idaho.  They were also introduced in Chile and other countries around the world.  But in Arizona, there is only one spot you can go to see them and count them on your ABA list.  Most of the time, they are heard only birds because the vegetation is thick around the Wenima area where they live.  Arizona birders will chase these birds to come back with only a recording of their calls as a reward for their hard work. Difficulty level is a 4 or 5 due to the location. 

The California Quail, as seen in Pacific Northwest, feed in a large covey

The OTHER quail is known as the Elegant Quail. It's a beauty and a common bird for Mexico.  Many years ago, one was recorded in the town of Douglas.  Many believe it was an exotic bird released from a cage.  And yet the possibility is that this one bird strayed quite a ways outside of its northern most range and got mixed up with a covey of Gambel's Quail.  Quail don't migrate or fly long distances outside of their ranges so for one to show up in Arizona is suspicious.  Either way, one was recorded in this state. 

The Gould's Wild Turkey of the Santa Rita Lodge in Madera Canyon put on a show for us.  This tom is looking for a lady!
Now let's move onto grouse and turkeys.  A nemesis bird for me over the years has been the Dusky Grouse.  It's the ONLY grouse found in Arizona and it's normally seen in the northern parts of the state around places like the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff and near Greer in the White Mountains. 

Wild Turkeys were once almost hunted to extinction in North America.  Today, thanks to conservation efforts, their numbers are healthy and growing.  In Arizona, there are two subspecies of Wild Turkey, the Merriam's(common to most states) and the Gould's(common for Southern Arizona, New Mexico and Northern Mexico).  If you're a bird nerd like me, you'd want to see the differences between the subspecies. Most people wouldn't care because a turkey is a turkey. But to find this Merriam's subspecies, we went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. To find the Gould's Wild Turkey of Southern Arizona, you'll need to head to the foothills on up into the forests of the sky islands. Further south towards the border, they can be found along riparian corridors. 

Ring-necked Pheasant
Now.  Let's go through the rest of the "game" birds.  Ring-necked Pheasants were introduced to the US decades ago for hunting purposes.  Eventually, several states saw them "naturalize" and become permanent residents around the US.  Today, they continue to release these birds for hunting purposes. In Arizona, the ONLY countable population is found around farm fields bordering California, Mexico and the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ.  If they are found anywhere else in the state, they are not ABA countable. 

Chukar on Antelope Island near Salt Lake City, Utah
Chukars.  Another introduced bird to the US.  Again, several populations naturalized in states like Oregon, Utah and Idaho.  Here in Arizona, the only countable Chukar would be the one found near the Arizona/Utah border. Chukars have been found in other places around the state but are considered survivors from hunters releasing them into the wild for target practice. 

a wild Indian Peafowl at a park in Orange County, CA

Indian Peafowl are not countable.  In California, they are breeding.  But in Arizona, they are considered escapees. 

a Northern Bobwhite in Wisconsin
Finally.  There are two great mentions here.  We cannot forget these Arizona birds.  And it's important to note their status.  The Northern Bobwhite was once commonly found in the southern grasslands of Arizona.  Some even say that there are still small populations that continue along the US/Mexican border.  They are a unique subspecies of Northern Bobwhite that are often called Masked Bobwhite.  

Similar to the Masked Bobwhite, this is another subspecies of Northern Bobwhite in Chiapas, Mexico
This subspecies of bobwhite was wiped out from the area due to cattle grazing.  Today as the Federal Government restores the grasslands of the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, it faces the huge task of reintroducing this species back onto their former grasslands. They have a facility that contains 98% of the world's population of Masked Bobwhite. The Phoenix and San Diego Zoos are also involved now to protect these birds from another possible avian flu epidemic.  It has been a decades struggle and their reintroduction has hit many bumps which include disease and domestication. Today, workers are trying something new and perhaps, Arizona will one day have a wild and special population of Northern Bobwhite living freely in the grasslands along the border. 

Greater Sage-Grouse in the Pacific Northwest
And finally, it is important to note that Arizona was once home to a small population of Greater Sage-Grouse in the very northern regions of the state along the Utah border. I remember asking myself this question years ago.  Why couldn't there be Greater Sage-Grouse here?  Over time, I discovered from study and conversations that their ranges across the US and Canada have seen drastic changes over the decades as housing and farming developments destroyed a lot of their habitat.....and leks.  In a recent report, their populations have risen sharply which gives me hope for their future.  Will they ever return back to Arizona?  Is there a lek we don't know about along the border?  These are questions that only time will answer.  

Photo not mine.  This is from Tucson Daily Photo
I love the chicken birds. In Arizona, you can reliably count on 5 species of grouse, quail and turkey.  The question is. Can you find them all? I still need to find that darn Dusky Grouse!  My next series will be on Grebes and Loons.  Until next time.....

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Las Aventuras: Arizona Geese and Swans

A gaggle of geese

Today we'll examine part 2 of this blog series on Arizona birds, the Geese and Swans.  We'll discuss the rare and common birds and also who's countable (and not).  This is a fun group of birds because they are large and easy to see. To find them just head over to the many parks, farm fields, lakes and golf courses found around Arizona. And maybe, you'll discover something rare! So let's go on this goose chase and discover another group of birds found in Arizona.  

The Canada Goose.  Love them or hate them, they are quite common from the city of Phoenix on up to the northern part of the state.  They are often found around golf courses and parks in the Phoenix area all year round.  NOW.  If you live in Tucson like I do, they are VERY rare and not common at all.  Many Phoenix birders think it's funny when Tucson birders get excited about Canada Geese:) 

The Cackling Goose is to the very left.  Tricky tricky.....
The Cacklers.  Cackling Geese can be a major headache to ID because they are so similar to some of the smaller Canada Geese subspecies.  And within the Cackling Geese populations, there are ALSO subspecies.  To make things even more difficult, these miniature looking Canada Geese are often found mixed in with their brethren:)  Often ebird reviewers and birders alike need time to carefully look at the field marks before they "okay" their sighting.  These geese are always present every year during our winter months but in very small numbers.  Look for a shorter bill and a smaller bird.  It's even better if you have the Aleutian subspecies that has the white line at the base of the neck!   

Snow Goose
Okay.  Since I'm talking about similar geese species, let's look at both the Ross's and Snow Goose, both which can be found in Arizona during our winter months. 

The Snow Goose is much more common here during the winter.  To differentiate them, look at the "grin" on the bill of the Snow Goose. The Snow Goose is also larger with a bigger bill. Note the size of the bill on the Ross's Goose below. 

A Ross's Goose emerges from the cold mists of sewage water. 
Another fun wintering goose is the Greater White-fronted Goose.  I wouldn't say it's common but it's usually not too hard to find wintering in Arizona during the winter months.  

The Greater White-fronted Goose
If you play the ABA game, birds like the Egyptian Goose, Graylag and Swan Goose don't count. 

Seen in California not ABA countable
 However, from field experience, I can say that the Egyptian Goose is a species to watch and I think it's important to note the occurrence of this bird in the state for our records. If you are a true birder, you mark EVERY detail down on your counts, wild exotics included. In California, there has been evidence that these birds are breeding in the wild. Their populations are also increasing around the state.  This goose is not native to the US but has established several populations around the US. In Arizona, a few are seen each year in various places. 

Brants are usually found wintering along the coast of Southern California and very rarely get blown into Arizona by a big storm
But the sea goose that is rarest and most precious of them all is the Brant.  It will show up every great while at a pond or lake somewhere.  Sometimes, it's just for a day.  

Now for the swans.  There are 3 swans that can be seen in Arizona.  We have Tundra, Trumpeter and Mute Swans.  But here's what you need to know about these three species......

The Tundra Swan can be ID'd by the yellow lore on the bill
Tundra Swans are the most "common" of the three swans.  And by common, I don't mean often:)  But they have been known to winter in various watering holes around the state for the winter.  Some years are better than others.  But if you see a swan in the wild, the default is Tundra(or Mute Swan who has escaped the confines of a golf course). 

Trumpeter Swans at Sweetwater Wetlands in Tucson
Or even rarer, you might have the Trumpeter Swans.  Again, these birds are considered gems to the Arizonan birding community.  They can be tricky to ID and often throw birders off guard.  These somewhat similar looking swans to the Tundra can be one day wonders or stay for a week or more in the right habitat.  Proper ID is important here.  Tundra Swans have yellow lores and their bills are somewhat different from the Trumpeter Swans.  If you find this rare swan, consider yourself blessed by the bird gods:)

the invasive yet loved by golfers, Mute Swan
And finally, the Mute Swan.  It is not countable in the ABA world.  ABA listers get "ticked" when other birders count this "crap bird" on their Arizona list.  There is no right or wrong here but I will tell you that these birds are often captive and more than likely escapees from golf courses. If you ebird and are solely an ABA lister, you can enter 0 in your count.  Yes, you saw a Mute Swan but it won't count on your overall life or state list.  If you want this invasive swan to count, you'll have to go east and find one:)  And there are plenty.  

This is the complete list of "expected" geese and swans, but if you've lived in Arizona long enough, you know that crazy rarities have shown up.  Who knows?  Maybe an Emperor Goose will appear during a crazy weather event. With the right storm, anything is possible. I am bias, but if you are a birder, Arizona is THE place to live for all things avian.  Granted, I think birding is epic anywhere you go, but there's nothing like settling down after a trip somewhere and saying, "It's good to be back home with my birds."  Each Arizona day can shock and dazzle with a crazy surprise.  My Arizona series will continue on one of my favorite groups of birds......the grouse!  Stay tuned for more!  

Our resident Blue morph Snow Goose in Tucson.  A year long resident and popular with the local birding community.  He is loved. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

A Pink Martini

Black-necked Stilts
Craving something sweet, I went shopping at the outdoor market.

Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge
So much eye candy everywhere.

Brewer's Sparrow
And it was cool and breezy!

The nice temps encouraged me to explore more.

Common ground-dove
It was nice to be able to linger around and look at things.

Giant Mesquite Bugs
In fact, the weather was SO nice that I didn't feel like rushing home right away. 

Lark Sparrow
It was hard to remember why I came to the outdoor market in the first place.

Wilson's Warbler
Keep her moving.

Clay-colored Sparrow
I went down the martini aisle.  I mean.....it looked right.

There's nothing better than a pink martini.  But it's all about getting the balance right and choosing a good vodka.

Swaison's Hawk

Most martinis are dry but this one had to be sweet.

As I walked further down the liquor aisle, I spotted my Triple Sec.  Now for the cranberry juice....

One. Two. Three shakes and voila!

Roseate Spoonbills
Pink Martini made.  So glad I went to the market!

Nothing better than a cool pink drink to celebrate the beginning of fall weather. 

The Roseate Spoonbills are rare for the state of Arizona.  For more on the birds discovered on this day in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge, click here.  Until next time.....

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Catalina Highway

Sometimes you just have to get away.

Western Bluebird
I took a drive to the top of Mt. Lemmon on that Catalina Highway.

Turkey Vulture
For several early hours, I just took in the cooler temps and enjoyed feeling cold.

And while I stood alone in the forest.....

......I watched the birds actively feed all around me.

White-breasted Nuthatch
There were many young ones following their parents from branch to branch and from tree to tree.

Yellow-eyed Junco
The end of summer is near.  Soon the young ones will be leaving with their parents.

Western Wood-Pewee
Characters, like this Northern Flicker, may choose to winter on Mt. Lemmon over the winter OR head on down to the warmer temps of Tucson.

Northern Flicker
Others, like this Pygmy Nuthatch below, will remain here.

Pygmy Nuthatch
Hawks are moving through the area now. Many are heading south passing through the Catalinas.

Red-tailed Hawk
After this crazy summer, things are starting to get back to normal again. With temps cooling down below 100 degrees, I'm feeling my energy come back.  It's not easy getting trapped inside your home for more than a week over the course of 2 or 3 months. More adventures coming soon.....