Saturday, September 23, 2017

Las Aventuras: 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 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.....

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Las Aventuras: Arizona Waterfowl

Greetings everyone! With fall migration upon us and wintering birds arriving,  I'll be writing a series of posts on Arizona birds. I'll discuss the common or rare occurrences of these birds in the state of Arizona. So if you come to Arizona, what should you expect to find as a birder?  Part one of this blog series focuses the AZ waterfowl. 

Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks.  While not a super rare duck for the lower half of the US, one needs to be in the right areas to find them.  In Texas, they are everywhere. But if you're in Arizona, where and when can you expect to find them?  They are really common during our summer months here in Southern Arizona during monsoon season.  In places like Rio Rico or Amado, you'll often find them with little babies.  Phoenix has a small population that lives there year round.  During our winter months, they are difficult to find as they do slightly migrate south into Mexico.  On occasion, I have seen a group in February or March when they are considered "rare" for the state. This is often a duck birders search for here in Arizona.  

My first record of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks in Costa Rica
Several ducks I always keep my eyes open for during our migration and winter months are the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks, Baikal Teal, Garganey, Harlequin Duck and Tufted Ducks. These are considered EXCELLENT birds and the gems of the AZ birding community. This year, the Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were seen in the city of Glendale at a Recharge Pond.  

A Long-tailed Duck shows up at the Glendale Recharge Pond in Phoenix and stays for quite awhile!
Speaking of rare AZ appearances, the Long-tailed Duck.   This duck is very common in Wisconsin. I'm so used to finding them in icy waters along our Lake Michigan piers.  So for one to appear in Arizona?!? Yes, it does rarely happen. This is one of my favorite ducks to observe in the wild.  During the months of December and January, AZ listers should keep an eye out for this bird.  Long-tailed Ducks are NOT common at all here but a few do stop and recharge for a day or more around the lakes and recharge ponds.  With this Long-tailed Duck, he stayed for about a month!

Green-winged Teal
So what waterfowl can you easily expect to observe in Arizona? During the winter months, birders find lots of wonderful ducks!  And the ducks aren't afraid of you either.  Back in Wisconsin, they tend to stay far away thanks in part to hunting.  They know that people will shoot them.  Here in lovely Arizona, many of the ducks find a safe refuge at our local parks and golf courses. I remember one time a birder told me how shocked she was to have Canvasback come right up to her!   

Anyhow, Canvasback, Redheads, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Gadwall, Bufflehead, Green and Blue-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintail(they still tend to be shy), Cinnamon Teal(this is one people look for here), and Ruddy Ducks are all pretty common.

So what's MORE difficult to find?  To step up your game, you'll have to have patience. You'll comb through the endless American Wigeons and regular ducks to find those "less common" birds.  Take for example this Wood Duck.  They can be tricky, but they are present if you know where to look. 

Wood Duck
However, if you see a Mandarin Duck, don't get too excited. OR DO GET EXCITED!  If you play the ABA game, they don't count here in Arizona.  They are pretty though.  Every single time one pops up, I have to listen to ABA birders talk about how they are escapees from the Phoenix zoo with a small breeding population.  Ok ok, I get it ABA peeps, this duck isn't worth your time.  It's still a bird and it's still worthy of a pic:)

Mandarin Duck
Other ducks NOT countable if you play the ABA game?  Muscovy Ducks.  They are also considered escapees from somewhere.  Apparently people love to eat them.  If you want your Muscovy to count, you'll have to go to Florida to add them to your ABA list. My true experiences with Muscovy Ducks are that they are EXTREMELY shy in the wild.  

Domestic Muscovy Ducks and Muscovy Hybrids are seen occasionally in Arizona
The Scaups.  During our winter months, we have both Lesser and Greater Scaups.  I know both these birds well.  I think my spirit bird is the Greater Scaup.  I found one this year in Tucson for the birder club.  Lesser Scaups are very common here during our winter but Greater Scaups are NOT AS COMMON.  But that's what makes them fun.  With a little patience and confidence, a birder may find one hanging out with the Lessers.  They are considered "rare" here but I would say they aren't as uncommon as many think.  Look for the wide nail on the bill, the rounder head and the wider white area around the bill to help with the ID.  The Greater, as suggested in the name, is also larger than a Lesser Scaup. 

A female Greater Scaup
The Mergansers. There are three species and they all winter here.  The Common Mergansers are common here.  The Hooded Mergansers are fairly common in the right areas.  The rarest merg is the Red-breasted Merganser.  However, they regularly show up every year in the state in deeper waters.  Sometimes they do make a quick and rare appearance at our local watering holes.

Hooded Merganser
The Scoters. Yep. We get all three scoters here.  I was shocked as well.  They also can show up during our winter months and are what I would consider rare.  A birder must check the deepest lakes, many times with a scope, to see these birds. During a winter storm, a Black Scoter was blown into the Tucson area.  A year later, I saw my first Surf and White-winged Scoters up in the Phoenix area. They ARE rare and usually are found in December.  

White-winged Scoter
The Goldeneyes.  Both are fairly common in the right habitat.  They are both regular to the state and can reliably be found in certain areas.  The Common Goldeneye can be quite common.  The Barrow's Goldeneye requires a little patience because they look similar to a Common Goldeneye. SO read up on your field marks!  Generally it is found up in the Lake Havasu area where the bird will winter. 

Common Goldeneye

Wigeons.  And finally, let's talk about our wigeon crew.  American Wigeons flock to Arizona in the THOUSANDS during the winter months. A few do stay during our summer months.  American Wigeons are easily found around our area but it's the Eurasian Wigeon that everyone hopes to spy.  Over the past several years, a Phoenix park and a lake in Willcox have been home to several Eurasian Wigeons.  They can be a regular "rarity" among the thousands of American Wigeons.  The trick here is having a little patience and picking one out from the crowd:)

American and Eurasian Wigeon side by side
Winter birding is fun and relatively easy.  It's made better with a scope and a cup of coffee.  There are MANY more birds that are found alongside our AZ duck crowd and I'll cover those in the next several blog posts.  Our next feature will be geese and swans. As we get into different bird groups, things will get more interesting as theories begin to develop for certain birds.  Until next time....